Misconceptions about Section 8

apartment building

When the American populace hears the words “subsidized housing” there are usually a few voices that will groan in displeasure and proceed to air their grievances with the idea. This reaction is one that I, as a person in a family that lives in subsidized housing, have gained an annoyance for. Setting that annoyance aside though, I understand why there is disdain for the idea of this type of housing. The thought that someone can live without a care in the world while others have to work to live a life they desire is enough make anyone’s blood boil. Therein lies my annoyance with the disdain: It’s unfounded. There are many reasons why people say they dislike it, but the immediate “It’s just a handout” is what upsets me the most.

Subsidized housing is not free in any sense of the word. Those of us on this type of housing pay in two separate ways. The first is in the way everyone else pays: rent. Section 8 housing, the type of housing that my mom and I live in, does not pay your entire rent for you. The program pays a percentage of your rent based on your income. For my mom and me, that means it pays around 70% of our rent. Sounds like a lot, right? With the program sponsoring 70% of our rent, we should be paying very little; at least you would think. That’s not quite the case. We still pay around $220 per month (in other words, that’s about $3000 per year which can make a huge difference for the annual expenses of families that qualify for this type of housing) and that was with me being counted as a student. Once I graduate and start working, our case will have to be re-evaluated and our rent will increase depending on how much I will earn per month.

The second way that we pay is in restrictions. Those living in apartments, as my mom and I do, or any other housing with a landlord and a lease, have to follow two sets of rules and regulations. The first set comes straight from the lease of the housing that we live in. The second comes from United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, also known as HUD. HUD is the administrator of Section 8 housing and therefore controls who is approved or denied for the voucher. I won’t lie and say that these regulations are unfairly restrictive, but they are very strict. For example, a person with a Section 8 voucher can be kicked out if they fail to keep their utilities on or if they fail to notify Housing of a change in their income. Here’s why those of us on a housing voucher want to avoid eviction at all costs: If someone on a housing voucher is evicted from their housing, they will lose their housing voucher. Once a person loses a voucher, they cannot reapply for a housing voucher for three to five years. For many people living in Section 8 housing, this could mean that they have no other way to pay for their housing, which could be truly hazardous and lead to living in worse conditions that offer more affordable rent (at the cost of personal security and access to vital services) or even homelessness in dire cases.

The other misconception – that people on housing abuse the system – is also invalid. There are, of course, people that do so, but they are few and far between. This is for one main reason: the strenuous process to get into the program. To receive a housing voucher is nowhere near as easy as some might think. The application is only one of many steps in the process. In order to be even considered for the program, a family has to apply as well as prove, in detail, why they need to be on the program. This includes proving that one or more members of the household cannot work and proving that they fall within the income limit for the program. If a member of the household over the age of 18 is a full-time student, that has to be proven as well. Once a family is approved, they have to find housing on their own. That seems like the easy part, but it’s not. The housing chosen has to be inspected by the Housing Authority to determine if it is up to their standards. If that passes, only then can the family move in.

To bring this back to my original point, I understand why there are people who don’t like the idea of subsidized housing. As someone living in subsidized housing, though, I want those people to understand that this isn’t what we want either. We want to be able to have our homes and pay for our own lives. That’s just not a viable option for us at the current moment. My mom earns roughly $800 per month. Out of that income comes our rent, her phone bill, her medical payments, household necessities, and our cable and internet payments. When she’s done paying for those basic services, she has less than $100 to live on for the rest of the month. And do you want to know what happens every month? She cries and stresses about that little amount of money she has. This year will be another year that we can’t afford Christmas. This year has been another year that we wish and we dream that we can have our own home that we can do whatever we want with. This month will be another month that we, as a family, decide which bills are more important and which can be deferred. This month, my mom decides that my graduation is more important than her paying bills. This month, I cry because I know that this stress and pain is nowhere near the end.

So please, be kind to those of us on subsidized housing. We don’t want handouts and we don’t want your hard-earned money. We just want to live as you do, as Americans do.

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